"I want to take him back, but I don’t want to look like a doormat."
Dear Suzie, I need to know how to deal with an unfaithful husband. My husband recently confessed to having an affair with a woman he works with. The worst part is that I knew something was going on between them. I could sense it. I kept asking him, and he would deny it, saying they were just friends. Recently (because he was about to be busted by his boss), he admitted that they were “more than friends.” Now, he’s begging for forgiveness and swearing on his mother’s life that he will never do this again. I love my husband, and so far, he’s been a really good father and provider. I don’t want to lose my home and our marriage over this, but at the same time, I don’t want him to think he can do this to me (and our kids) and get away with it. I want to take him back, but I don’t want to look like a doormat. I want to make sure he has learned his lesson. What can I do?
I understand your dilemma.
If your husband were a two-year-old, we could put him in time out. If he were a teenager, we could ground him or take away his car keys. Or if adultery were a crime, we could have him arrested and let a jury of his peers decide what to do with him. But alas, he’s not a child or teen, and we live in a country where extramarital affairs aren’t considered a worthwhile legal pursuit.
Can you legally punish a cheating spouse for commiting adultery?
Cheating spouses are a red-hot button, mainly because it falls in that gray area (somewhere between social law and religious law). And that’s why the answers aren’t just perplexing for people like you but also for entire countries around the world.
Notice: Here in America, adultery isn’t considered to be a worthwhile legal pursuit, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. As of the date of this article, there are a few states where adultery is still on the statute books.
The state of Virginia takes on adultery
For example, in 2001, the state of Virginia prosecuted an attorney, John R. Bushey Jr., for adultery. The result? He pleaded guilty. Then he was given a mere $125 fine. Now you understand why I said it’s not considered a worthwhile legal pursuit. But while the United States, Europe, and other Western countries rarely prosecute adultery, in other countries, it’s a different kettle of fish.
A South Korea example
In late 2008, in what was probably the most famous case of criminalized adultery, Ok So-ri (one of South Korea’s most famous actresses) was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence for adultery. (Her lover was given six months.) In fact, South Korea is one of the few remaining non-Muslim countries where adultery remains a criminal offense to this day. A person found guilty of adultery in South Korea can be jailed for up to two years. But if you think South Korean courts take adultery seriously, their consequences are nothing when compared to some Muslim countries.
ISLAM & INFIDELITY
According to Amnesty International, several Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Yemen, have laws that make adultery punishable by stoning offenders to death. And in Afghanistan (under the Taliban rule), adulterous couples were often killed together.
This tells us that if we look to the justice system for clues as to what are the appropriate consequences (or lack thereof) when dealing with philandering spouses, the answers are all over the board. In the United States (when legally pursued), you can expect anywhere from a $10 fine to a $125 fine. Outside the United States, it ranges from South Korea’s suspended prison sentence, all the way to being stoned to death in Yemen.
Before we go any further…
Do you believe that adultery should carry legal consequences from our justice system?
Before you give me your answer, you should know there are two schools of thought on the validity of the legal pursuit of adultery by the justice system: those who are for it and those who are against it.
Legal consequences VS No legal consequenceS
No legal consequenceS
The supporters of legal consequences for adultery argue two main points:
- Those who commit adultery should be prosecuted. Because it tears down the fabric of home and family life. Therefore, it’s a crime against society (not just individuals), and that’s why it should be punishable by law.
- Giving those who commit adultery more serious legal consequences will create better deterrents and protect mainly women from philandering husbands.
Those who are against legal consequences for adultery also present two main arguments:
- “Private and consenting acts” shouldn’t be governed by law (1965 Lawrence v. Texas).
- Legal pursuit will become a means of revenge by the spouse, allowing embittered spouses to use the courts as a vehicle for retribution instead of justice.
Where do you stand? (I’m curious to know your opinion.)
I think it’s important to know where you stand on this issue because it will help you understand where you want to go from here.
Here’s what I mean:
Since there are no standard consequences for dealing with infidelity from a legal point of view, this means that how it is handled will vary from person to person and situation to situation (just like it does from country to country). So, it comes down to who you are — and what you believe is right, just, and fair.
Now, the real work begins.
In wanting to learn how to deal with an unfaithful spouse, what you’re really asking is a combination of: (1) What is my role in this, and (2) what is the appropriate response? Both are valid questions, and I believe asking questions is a sign you are ready to learn.
And if you’re anything like my private clients…
Chances are no one prepared you ahead of time for how to deal with this type of situation, and so you aren’t even sure what you believe is right, just, and fair… or what your role or function ought to be.
And if this is the case for you, then you could probably use a little help to uncover your own beliefs, so they can guide you to finding answers that are right for you.
And to facilitate your journey of discovery, coming up next are five guiding questions to ask yourself to help determine what you believe at this point.
5 Guiding questions to uncover what you believe about love and infidelity
What if you feel it’s your function to love him?
Well, that’s a completely different kettle of fish.
If you feel your function is to love him, then you’ll see yourself as his friend first and wife second.
- Rather than seeing him as disappointing you, you’ll see how he has disappointed himself.
- Rather than focusing on the deception he has weaved for you, you can see how much more elaborate his self-deception must have been… since no one can fool others without first being a fool himself.
- As his friend, you can love him despite his shortcomings because friends are able to see friends as separate human beings (not extensions of themselves).
Does this make sense?
Listen. Even if you don’t agree with every single thing I’ve presented so far, I do believe these ideas are worthy of your consideration because they’re aligned with truth and higher learning. And before you begin to align yourself with that idea, it might be good to be honest with yourself and acknowledge that there are a variety of ways to respond to a situation. Being punitive is one way, but it’s not the only way.
As you think about that… also consider the following key insights about love and infidelity.
5 Key Insights About Love and Consequences
1st Key Insight
If you can’t permit a man to be human, you can’t love him.
Love doesn’t make humans perfect. We all make mistakes regardless of being in love or not. A bank robber might be deeply in love and still rob banks. It’s important to note that making mistakes is part of the human experience. Therefore, the unwillingness to forgive mistakes is really the denial of a person’s humanity. And that’s why compassion is such an important virtue for all of us.
2nd Key Insight
Those who condemn have a heavy investment in being right.
To condemn is to have the fixed belief that a person cannot change. What is condemned is condemned forever and therefore unforgivable. Those who have condemned others don’t want to feel guilty about their judgment, and so they’ll always look for evidence to prove that they are right.
You may not have realized this yet.
But the penalty for contempt is the experience of contempt for yourself. Why? Because no thought ever leaves the mind of the thinker. When you think hate… you experience hate. When you think contempt… you experience contempt. And when you think love… you experience love.
3rd Key Insight
Wrong actions don’t correct wrong actions.
Here’s how one of my mentors (Richard Wetherill) once put it:
“A person really can’t get into trouble by taking right action. They get into trouble by taking wrong action. They might gain something by taking wrong action, but they pay more for it than it’s worth. And they may lose something by taking the right action, but they gain something far more precious.”
Keep this in mind: Regardless of what you decide to do, the consequences of your thoughts and actions return to you.
In other words… wrong actions (regardless of whether they’re provoked or not) will return wrong consequences. However, the opposite is also true. Right actions (regardless of difficulty) always return right results.
4th Key Insight
Building walls won’t prevent future hurt.
Here’s the beautiful truth: No part of you needs to die under the strain of this experience. Instead, you can let it nourish you and strengthen you, and you can find ways to convert the dirt dished out into diamonds. However, this begins with choosing to heal the hurt, not burying it or building walls around it.
Here’s why building walls doesn’t work: Defensive walls create a boundary between you and the rest of us. While you think you are safe behind those walls, it’s really an illusion because what you’ve done is put yourself in a mental prison… for a crime, you didn’t commit. (And that’s the last thing you would want to do, right?)
5th Key Insight
No thought leaves the mind of the thinker.
I have said this over and over again, so by now, I think you get the message. Now, the question becomes…
Do you want to punish, or do you want to be happy?
Because, when it comes to dealing with an unfaithful spouse, those are your two options. You can’t have both. To choose one is to reject the other.
You experience the consequences of what you invite.
Notice I said YOU will experience these consequences (right alongside your partner, your children and anyone else in your circle).
- Invite punishment – You experience it alongside them.
- Invite happiness – You experience right alongside them.
Remember: No thought leaves the mind of the thinker (regardless of if you believe they deserve it or not). And maybe that way, the wise teachers have always said, “What you give you receive.”
But what if after reading all this… you still want to punish?
Then I have nothing else to offer you, and we can part ways here as friends. However, if you would like to be happy, I have seven recommendations for you on how to deal with an unfaithful spouse after infidelity.
Let’s go over them now.
Recommendations on how to deal with an UNfaithful husband or wife
Not because it’s the right thing to do, and not because it’s a religious duty, and you’ve been told it’s what you should do, but because forgiving them it’s the get-out-of-jail-free card for you.
Forgiving also helps you do three very important things:
- Helps YOU release resentment
- Helps YOU move past debilitating anger
- Releases YOU from fear
Remember: Unforgiveness creates a war you can’t win.
Why? Because the price you pay to keep that war going is your own happiness and peace of mind.
Forgiveness doesn’t obligate you to stay together because forgiving a person and saving a marriage are two separate decisions. However, if you stay together, forgiveness is necessary. If you break up, forgiveness is still necessary. Why? Because forgiveness is for you.
Listen and Learn
This one can be very hard at first, but think about it this way: If you had a teenager who was acting out — say, you caught them taking drugs, lying, stealing, or bullying other kids — maybe your first response would be disbelief, quickly followed by anger, and then a profound disappointment. However, as any good parent does discover, eventually you want to learn what’s triggering this behavior. And the best way to do that is by sitting down and opening your mind, heart, and ears… and listening to them.
Clues about listening:
- You can’t listen to them if you’re busy talking in your own mind.
- You can’t hear what they’re saying if, on the inside, you’re busy arguing, discrediting, and rejecting their words.
Remember: Listening is not the same as analyzing.
If you truly want to learn what’s going on, you must be willing to listen (which requires you to mute your own mental conversations).
Listening can be very therapeutic for couples. I’ve facilitated listening sessions with couples, and usually, they’re very surprised at what they learn from each other. Sometimes, this can turn out to be a very healing and transformative experience for both partners.
Say What You Mean (But Don’t Say It in a Mean Way)
It’s important to note that arguing, badgering, the silent treatment, stonewalling, screaming, sarcasm and defensiveness aren’t forms of communication. They are all forms of attack.
And if the majority of your communications have been falling into these categories, then you’re in a power struggle… not in a relationship. You’re no longer partners; you have become opponents. The problem with power struggles is that there are no winners, only victims.
To move from a power struggle to communicating again.
Remember: Never Allow Yourself to Cloak Your Truth In Spite
Just because you are speaking your truth, that doesn’t mean it’s ok to cloak the truth in spite. The truth cloaked in spite is still spiteful. And spitefulness is an attack.
- To truly communicate, you must be willing to surrender the desire to attack.
- To truly communicate, you must be willing to put your thoughts, feelings, and ideas into words that help others to understand.
- It’s okay to say what you mean. You just don’t have to say it mean.
Seek Professional AdviceIt’s my opinion that before you walk away, throw your hands up in the air, or try to figure it out on your own. It might be useful for you to get a second viewpoint on your situation — one that isn’t emotionally entangled. I suggest you find a good therapist, a gentle counselor, or maybe a religious leader. If you don’t already have someone in mind, feel free to click on this link to schedule a private phone, FaceTime or Skype session with me. Why do I believe that seeking professional guidance is so important? I believe it’s important for the same reason that you go to an expert mechanic if your car breaks down, or to a dentist if you have a toothache. In times like this, having an expert by your side can make all the difference in the world.
Encourage Them to Accept Atonement
What is atonement? Here’s a definition I like: Atonement means “being at one”. The word “atone” literally means “at one”. Therefore, atonement means to return to wholeness or healing.
So, a better way to pronounce the word is like this: at-one-ment.
When I speak of atonement, I’m not speaking of it in any religious context. Instead, think of atonement this way: It’s accepting forgiveness for our mistakes (self-forgiveness) and correcting the thinking that led to the mistakes in the first place.
Atonement has two components:
Both restore the person to a place of wholeness, healing, and balance.
By encouraging your partner to make peace with his past, cancel the guilt, correct his thinking (so he can move towards healing), it’s not only an act of graciousness on your part, but it’s also a sign of shrewd intelligence.
Here’s why: As long as he continues to deny himself forgiveness and carry a sense of guilt for the affair, he remains vulnerable to cheating again. This comes as a surprise for many people who incorrectly assume that feeling guilty is a sign of correction, when in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Guilt is actually a sign we have NOT corrected the thinking that created the mistake in the first place.
Remember: Guilt is Not a Sign of Correction
How can I be sure?
The second you correct the thinking that led to the mistake, you stop feeling guilty because you’re confident you will not repeat the mistake. There’s no need to punish yourself once you have had learning success.
Remorse is not the same as guilt. Looking back at a past mistake with regret produces a feeling of remorse, but looking at a past mistake with shame, anger, or fear produces guilt.
What it basically boils down to is this:
Guilt is a sign of learning failure.
Atonement is a sign of learning success.
One More Important Note: Atonement is NOT the same as letting someone (or yourself) off the hook, scapegoating, or compensating. In this case, it strictly speaks to the restoration of right-thinking after wrong-action.
Allow Them to Make Amendments.
What are amendments? When we’re truly sorry for our wrong actions, some part of our mind wants to find a way to make up for what we have done. (This desire is natural.) The way we choose to express that is called an amendment. And I believe making amends is an important part of the reconciliation process.
Hundreds of ways
There are hundreds of different ways to make amends, from a heartfelt apology, all the way up to a $4 million diamond ring (a la Kobe Bryant).
The thing to note about making amends is that it’s not the gesture that makes it count; it’s the sincerity. And that’s why you can’t fake amends or try to buy your way back into good standing without causing further offense.
I’ve seen people attempt to do this countless times.
One day, an unfaithful partner called me up totally exasperated. “I have done everything!” he complains. “I have bought her flowers, jewelry, fur, new cars, candy — everything I can think to buy. I have written her letters of apology, sent her emails saying how sorry I am. I have walked the dog, done the dishes, trimmed my beard, and still, she won’t forgive me. What else am I supposed to do? Should I go sit in the middle of the road and allow a bus to run over me, so she can see how sorry I am?”
Sometimes I’m tempted to feel sorry for them, but only for a minute because I know it’s not the gestures that are being rejected. It’s the perceived lack of sincerity.
The key to making amends is the sincerity behind the actions.
However, when you notice they are sincerely putting forth the effort, I believe it’s more helpful to be gracious than spiteful. Why? Because your willingness to allow them to make amends (when sincere) inspires their gratitude. And that’s the first step in the right direction.
Make the Right Adjustments in the Relationship
There’s no doubt about it. In any marriage, infidelity is a game-changer. And so, if you plan to rebuild, you both will need to be willing to make some adjustments in your relationship.
Couples who can adjust, thrive!
What do I mean by making adjustments?
I’m talking about adjusting not only your communication style but also your way of thinking about marriage and relationships and your overall married lifestyle.
This type of adjustments includes:
- Going from passive monogamy to passionate monogamy (read my article here)
- Going from passive wife to a passionate wife (read my article here)
Perhaps the most important adjustment…
- Go from seeing infidelity as a deal-breaker… to seeing it as an opportunity to make a new deal.
Why is making this adjustment so important?
It’s important because while no one can deny that infidelity is a deal-breaker, what few people are aware of is that it also presents an opportunity for couples to make a new deal.
And yet having the opportunity to make a new deal is one of the few things that can restore the balance of power in a marriage after infidelity (particularly helpful to the partner who’s been betrayed).
If you want to explore more of these types of adjustments and learn how you can restore the love, trust, and balance of power in your marriage, then you and your partner might be a good candidate for my Recommitment Weekend Retreat. (read more about it here)
5 Key Insights About Love and Consequences
I can only imagine…
When you started reading this article, you had a purpose in mind, and that purpose had to do with knowing what you can do to make things okay again. And as a wise teacher once told me…
“The best way to teach is by approach and not by avoidance; therefore, a good teacher does not emphasize what you must do to avoid hurt, but rather what you need to learn to embrace joy.”
With that in mind…
Let’s recap together
You now know…
- Punishment doesn’t correct behavior. It only forces temporary compliance.
- You can punish, or you can forgive, but you can’t do both.
- Why it’s more helpful to be gracious than spiteful
- You are not exempt from the consequences you evoke for others
- While Infidelity is a deal-breaker, it also presents an opportunity for couples to make a new deal.
And perhaps the most important insight…
You now know… there are a variety of ways to respond to a situation. And how you respond says more about you than it does the situation.
With all that said…
I have faith that I have pointed you towards what you need to do in order to restore that sense of okay-ness in your life.
I’ve done my part, and now it’s your turn.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!